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A Reflection on the 62nd Annual Celebration by the Horse Show Manager, Ron Thomas



Posted November 7, 2000
By almost every standard of measure the 2000 Celebration was one of the best ever. People continue to praise the judging panel, the facility, the quality of horses, and the overall good time they had at this world championship horse show. To a horse show manager, this is music to his ears! I have thoughts and observations about the recent Celebration, and I'm happy to share them with you.

BARNS
The new barns were well received. Initially, there were many doubts and suspicions as to whether or not the people would be happy with them, but in the long run they seemed to be very pleased. We liked them. They are functional and safe. With the standing-seam roof, the airflow is so much better. We wish it would have been possible to replace all 63 barns. Financially this was not a viable option at this time. We built 27 new barns that house approximately 550 stalls. The ones we chose were due to the fact that they are in the areas most used throughout the year by other breeds. After this initial phase of barn renovation, every event that comes to our grounds can be housed in new barns and stalls except for the Celebration. Ultimately, all of the barns will be replaced. This will definitely be a long-term project. The Celebration spent $3,100,000 on the recent construction projects, which include the new barns, the Celebration Plaza, Champions Arena, and a considerable amount of underground drainage work. We used $300,000 of our own capital and borrowed $2,800,000 from Union Planters Bank that is to be repaid at a rate of $350,000 per year for 15 years. A project with the magnitude of the one we just completed is extremely sizable to the Celebration, and we look forward to all of our customers enjoying the many changes.

THE CELEBRATION PLAZA
The Celebration Plaza is the result of the efforts of the board of directors to keep our facility among the most impressive of all equestrian facilities in America. The location lends itself to a true enhancement of both professionalism and tradition as horses go to the warm-up ring in the back of Calsonic Arena. Very few places in America have anything to match this beauty as people go to compete in various classes. There were thousands of photographs taken during the Celebration in the plaza area, and we are extremely happy with it. The Tennessee Walking Horse Breeders' and Exhibitors' Association completely remodeled their building to match the theme of the Celebration Plaza, including the brick and roof, which match our security office. There will be many memories taken home by people throughout America that come from photographs and the new Celebration Plaza.

MEDIA COVERAGE
We were delighted that the media coverage for the 2000 Celebration was extremely positive. What causes this? It is very simple. Clean, sound horses. As long as the trainers prepare the horses in a manner that complies with the Horse Protection Act of 1970, and they suit our DQPs, and they present the right image in the ring to the many spectators, media coverage will always be good. We are delighted with this. We applaud the trainers and the job they did during the 62nd annual Celebration, and we encourage them to do even a better job in 2001. We at the Celebration realize that we will never achieve perfection, but we must always strive for the day when every horse passes inspection and there are no turndowns. The current group of show horses on an overall basis present a wonderful image for our breed and send a very strong message that many people throughout our industry also rally to the S.H.O.W. campaign. Sound horses, Honest judging, Objective inspections, and Winning fairly is a mantra that the Celebration totally supports and endorses. We undergird its basic foundation and we believe in its principles. We will continue to work daily towards its end and its message. We will forever be indebted to the Maryland Group, our public relations firm in Brentwood, Tenn., for helping design this program and giving us the concept, which we can so positively embrace to the general public. In the end, however, the credit goes to the trainers who are preparing the horses and putting them in the ring. The responsibility for positive media coverage rests with them.

THROWN SHOES ON PLANTATION PLEASURE HORSES
The shoes being thrown in the plantation division has reached a point that something must be done. My concern is not merely for the spectator, although that is enough to make a horse show manager feel very strongly about an issue that the customers are not happy. I am more concerned, however, for the welfare of the horse. The horse is what we should be protecting. That is our asset. The horse is what brings us joy. We are not being fair to the horse. At the 2000 Celebration 33 shoes were cast in the plantation pleasure division and 26 were replaced. This represents approximately four hours of time in replacing the shoes. More importantly, however, it means that spectators were frustrated and disappointed, the exhibitors did not have a fair chance to showcase their entries in front of the judges, the judging panel was put at a disadvantage because they could not get in a "rhythm" in the particular classes involved, and several of the horses suffered very severe foot damage. This must stop. Look at this breakdown of the past five years.

Thrown Shoes
Replaced Year Thrown
26 2000 33
16 1999 21
9 1998 16
18 1997 38
18 1996 26

In the opinion of this show manager, it seems that we are allowing people to make the decision as to whether or not bands are optional who have no business being involved in the decision. For example, if a person is not showing in a plantation pleasure division, why are they making decisions and why should they have a vote as to whether or not bands are allowed? If someone has a horse that they pleasure ride at their home or on trail rides, why should someone in the padded divisions be making decisions as to what type of equipment they ought to wear? They shouldn't. The people that are affected should be the ones making the decisions. I am convinced that we need to make bands optional on the plantation pleasure division entries. Please remember that we are not being fair to the horse. We are not being fair to the judging panel. We are not being fair to the exhibitors. We are not being fair to the spectators. We are being fair to no one. Why are they not optional?

TRAIL PLEASURE
This division has grown dramatically. We are extremely excited about it and very positive about its results. The trail pleasure division has opened a new area at the world championship show in which people can show their horses and compete for championship honors. We intend to expand this division in 2001, and at the present time we are in the process of sending a survey to each participant in this division soliciting their input as to new classes, championship classes, the schedule of classes, etc. We will do our best to get in step with their wishes and give them a complement of classes that suits them. Several years ago we tried for two consecutive years to host versatility classes at the Celebration. It simply didn't work. I am glad that we tried and gave that aspect of our industry an opportunity to be showcased at the Celebration, but it merely did not work. The trail pleasure division has been well received, thoroughly supported, and looks like a bright future is ahead for it.

NOVICE CLASSES
Approximately six years ago the decision was made at the Celebration to include novice classes for people and horses that have not won blue ribbons at the Celebration. In the beginning this was note well received. Many people thought it would be a group of horses that were of lesser quality and should not be at the world championship show. Management of the Celebration felt otherwise, and, thank goodness, the people made believers out of everyone. This has been a wonderful addition to our show. The purpose of the novice classes was to give people an opportunity to compete at levels that were competitive for them. Not every owner can purchase a $500,000 stallion to show in the amateur division. We know that. Everyone understands that. By adding the novice classes, we opened a complete new arena for competition in which people felt that they had a realistic chance of competing and winning. It warms my heart to hear phrases such as, "This horse may not win in the open class at the Celebration, but this horse could be in the top five of a novice division." Many times when horses are being sold, phrases such as this are being used. I am delighted to hear that. We sincerely appreciate the response to the novice classes and thank those participants for what they have brought to our show.

JUDGING
The response to the results of the 2000 judging panel was overwhelmingly positive. Many, many credits passed their way. People felt that this panel did an outstanding job and did so diligently and repetitively for 11 nights. I agree.
A judging panel is not always easy to put together in terms of how the panel works throughout the 11 nights and five mornings of the event. There are times when there could be five great judges working together and there be only a good or average panel from that group. Conversely, there could be times when there are five good judges working together and they might develop into a great judging panel. So much depends on how they work together, the manner in which they call the classes and see the horses, etc. This year the panel truly did an outstanding job, and it was a real credit for this horse show manager to be in center ring with them. I have enjoyed each judging panel during my 17 years in center ring at the Celebration, and this one was certainly among the very best.
This panel did a diligent job of excusing horses that should not be in the ring, yet they did not have as many difficult calls to make, in my opinion. The following chart summarizes what has happened in the last five years.

Horses Excused By Judging Panel
Year Excused
2000 - 23
1999 - 42
1998 - 22
1997 - 17
1996 - 21

As you can see the 1999 panel was very quick to excuse horses that, in their opinion, should not be in the ring. The 2000 panel also did a wonderful job, but I truly believe that the horses presented looked much better in 2000 than they ever have. The fact that 23 horses were excused from the ring during the 2000 Celebration does not mean there were 23 violations of the Horse Protection Act. Horses could be excused for being unruly, a rider dismounting before a time-out was granted, etc.
At the Celebration we sincerely feel that judging is one of the most important things that happens during the 365 days of our year. The selection of the panel is critical, and the job the panel does is even more critical. This panel made us extremely proud. This year we paid our judges $15,000 each for judging the 62nd annual Celebration. It is our intent to continue to increase that amount so that within the next five years the judging panel makes $20,000 per person for judging the Celebration. There is no amount of money that will make an honest person out of a dishonest person. We understand that. We also understand, however, that the more money we pay our judges the more options we have from which to choose. There is a certain group of people that merely will not judge the Celebration for $5,000. There is an entirely different group of people that might consider judging for $20,000. We are trying to continue to increase the size of the pool from which we select each year.

HANDICAP NEEDS
Each year we attempt to do more to our facility to help those people who have specific needs at our championship show. Within aging facilities such as ours, it is difficult to have everything as it would be at a new, modern facility. We understand that, and thank goodness, so do most of the people who have loved ones that have special needs. It is very difficult to have enough handicap parking, handicap seating, and other specific needs to meet the growing demand of our fan base who have problems that require special attention. We will continue to work to solve those problems as effectively and quickly as we possibly can, and we appreciate and encourage a willingness of those who have these needs to work with us in an open and friendly manner. Quite often these people come to our facility in a negative mood, and we have challenges accommodating some of their wishes. We do thank those who come with an open mind and an understanding that we are attempting to assist these people in any way that we possibly can.

CROWD RESPONSE
It was extremely rewarding this year not to hear any boos as horses names were called throughout the event. I am proud of our spectators, and I applaud everyone who understands that it is quite appropriate to cheer for your favorite but do not boo others. There have been times when the boos have been extremely loud and very unpleasant. I thank our fans for their willingness to cheer-on their favorite and understand that many others present have their own personal favorites.

STRUCTURE OF THE CELEBRATION
The Tennessee Walking Horse National Celebration is extremely fortunate in that anyone connected with it, as a staff member or a member of the board of directors, cannot own, show, train or exhibit Tennessee Walking Horses. It is the intent of the board of directors to do everything possible to encourage impartiality and exhibit no conflict of interest whatsoever to our fans and exhibitors. The Celebration is blessed in the fact that since neither the staff nor the board of directors can be involved in our great industry, we can maintain an air of independence regarding all of our decisions. We are the only entity in this industry that has this luxury, and we intend to protect it. It is difficult for people to make an objective decision if they have their own interests involved that could be affected negatively by that decision. The Celebration maintains its independence with regard to its decisions, and we know that in the long run the fact that we are managed and governed by a group of business people who have no specific interest in our breed will inure to the benefit of all.

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